I UNTANGLED MYSELF FROM THE FURNITURE I was stuck between when I heard him speaking outside, telling the man hammering the desk to leave. The sound of his voice sent an electric fear through me. There was no way I’d let Rusnak corner me in the back of this truck, I had to get out. Now.
It was a slow process, climbing over the couch, squeezing between a mattress and a desk, but I made it and hopped off the ledge of the vehicle.
Both his and Cherry’s head whipped towards me at the sound of my feet hitting the pavement. Rusnak dropped her hands or pushed her away or something, the movement was too quick to follow, but she looked back towards him with burning eyes.
“Regan.” He acknowledged me with a smile.
She composed herself, standing up tall and taking a step back from him as she looked towards me. “How’d it look in there? Did you at least check the other desk?”
I nodded and took a few steps away from the truck, into open space. “The drawers were empty. Everything else seemed secure.”
Cherry scoffed. “You couldn’t possibly have checked all that yet. Jesus fucking Christ, do I have to do everything?”
Rusnak snatched her back by the sleeve of her jacket, making her face him. “Watch that tone.” His voice was controlled and level, even as his action was quick and aggressive. He dropped her sleeve but gave her a hard look. “Now what’s the problem?”
“Whoever packed this,” she pointed to the flipped desk, “fucked it up. It was a mess with product shoved in drawers. It’s shit like that, that’ll get us in trouble.” Her arm swept up, gesturing over me. “And now she thinks it’s all good after a thirty second check.”
My muscles tightened, wound up from her insult. “There’s only one desk in there. I checked—”
“Why don’t you go check?” He nodded to Cherry.
She snapped her attention to him but kept quiet as she walked past me, climbing into the back of the truck.
“You continue to surprise me. Now you’re out here working?” He cocked his head as he watched me, voice low. “Where’s Gage?”
“There.” I nodded to where I could see Gage’s outline on the deck talking to another man.
Rusnak followed the direction of my nod, and then turned back to me, taking a step closer.
I forced myself not to step back, to stand my ground.
“What are you doing here?” He took another step closer, looking at me through lowered lashes. “This was never you. Not before. You even turned Alessandra away. But now you’re back and all in. I want to know why?”
I shrugged like this was no big deal, gaining confidence as Gage walked off the boat. “Why doesn’t matter. I’m here. That’s all you need to know.”
His fingers moved across his lips as he shook his head side-to-side, unbearably slow. “I don’t think so. Not if you want me to answer your questions, the one you asked last night. I need to know what it is you’re after.”
A bang from the truck pulled his attention. His hand dropped from his face along with his small smile.
“I need help in here to get through all this shit,” Cherry called from in the truck.
“I’ll get someone.” He turned back to me. “We should talk somewhere else. Come with me.”
I stepped away then, not letting him get close enough to grab me. “No. I’ll help her.”
He followed my gaze, seeing Gage approaching. “Later then.”
“What do you need?” Gage cut around him, coming to my side. I grabbed his sleeve to keep him from stepping in front of me. I didn’t want a shield.
Rusnak looked towards him with a casual indifference. “The shipment is supposed to be going out now. How much longer till they’re ready?”
Gage looked to me for a moment, concern giving those blue eyes depth, and then he focused on Rusnak. “Well, all your last minute changes slowed us down some. But we’re running one last check to make sure everything’s secure, and then they’re out.”
“And why wasn’t it done right from the start?” Rusnak asked, nodding to the desk off to the side.
“That’s what I’m trying to figure out. Yuri’s not sure either. He said it was started before he got here though, so it must have slipped through then. Everything else should be right. He’s checking the other truck now. I’ll check this one. You can go back to whatever you had to do.”
“And what about the first truck? The one your brother’s driving?”
“I checked that before they loaded. And Dexter, Regan, and Sam were the only ones to touch it. I know it’s good.”
A weight lifted from me as I realized it was true. That truck was packed right.
“All right then. Help Cherry with this cargo. Check it over and get it out of here,” Rusnak stood still as he gave the direction, waiting for Gage to move.
Gage broke the stare off and turned, sweeping his arm around me at the same time. “Come on. Let’s get this done so we can go.”
I went willingly, not wanting to stay with Rusnak even if a part of me wanted to hear what he would say, what he was willing to tell me. But I knew information came at a price. Gage was right, I had to let it go.
“Let me know when it’s all done,” Rusnak gave one last command, smug in his authority. He inflated with it as Gage bristled under it.
“Sure.” Gage flicked one hand up but didn’t turn back around.
“Finally.” Cherry wiped her hand over her hair. “Help me take this mattress out so I can get behind it.”
We mostly worked in silence, unloading the truck and reloading it when we were sure everything was hidden away like it was supposed to be. It was quick job since others came to help when their jobs were finished. Soon both trucks were ready to go.”
Cherry hung back with me while Gage leaned into the driver’s side of the last truck, talking to the men inside.
“God,” she swiped her hair over one shoulder. “I dodged a bullet tonight. So fucking glad I’m not in one of those trucks.”
I raised an eyebrow at her, even as I tried not to say anything.
“It helps to have friends looking out for you,” she continued.
“Alessandra?” I questioned since Rusnak called her his wife’s pet. But was that really the reason she received so much favor from everyone around her?
“She’s one of them.” She smiled, and it grew when she looked towards me. “Don’t worry, I’m not even talking about your husband.” She nodded beyond me, and I turned to see Rusnak walking towards us. “He’s the one that you want on your side, and I’ve got that.” She went to meet him. Her hands moving, gesturing to the truck as she spoke to him.
He walked to where Gage was, said a few words, and then the truck pulled away. It was done.
Gage came to my side and nodded in the direction we were parked. “Let’s go.”
“Wait,” Rusnak interrupted. “You’re the contact for the trucks, you have a long night ahead of you. You’ll come with us, both of you.” He turned to Cherry. “Call Alessandra, tell her we’re leaving now.”
Gage shook his head. “We’re going home, I’ll call you if anything’s off, but otherwise, I’ll talk to you when the first drop reaches Chicago.”
“Fine,” he bit out the answer. Then he directed his attention to me and his voice and features softened. “We’ll talk more later then.”
“Like hell you will.” Gage stepped in front of me. “If you have anything to say, you talk to me, not her.”
Rusnak’s breathy laugh was cold. “It’s too late to pull her out now, you’re the one that brought her in. So I’ll talk to her if I choose too. I may have let you get away with this before but don’t push it. You—”
“You’re the one fucking pushing things, and you know it,” Gage gritted out, fists curled.
I pulled on his arm, wanting to take him away from this confrontation that couldn’t end well, but he wouldn’t budge. And Rusnak was still smiling at him, enjoying the fight, enjoying getting him worked up.
“Because I can. I. Make. The. Rules. I’m the reason you have anything. The reason you’ve gotten this far.” He stepped back, dropping the crazed look in his eyes, an even scarier calm taking over as he swiped his hand out. “Now go home. We both stand to make a lot of money, but we still have to work together. Don’t ruin that.”
Gage spun, using his body to push me with him as he left. I had to grab his arm for balance until my feet caught up with his long steps. My heart was pounding and it had nothing to do with our fast pace.
“What were you doing? Why piss him off like that now?” I waited till we were in the SUV and driving away before I questioned him.
“Because I can say no to him, and you seem to have a problem doing that.”
His anger hit me, knocking me off balance. It took a moment to recover. “I didn’t—”
“Fuck,” he stretched the word, yelling it as his hand hit the steering wheel. “I’m sorry,” he spoke much lower now, voice strained, “I didn’t mean that. I— fuck— it’s not your fault.” His hand gripped my knee. “I’m sorry.”
I slid my hand over his, wanting to calm him, but I was feeling just as unhinged.
“What was he doing with you? What were you two talking about?” He questioned.
“He said, he wanted to talk, that he’d answer my questions. I told him no.”
He was staring out the front window, the lines in his jaw moving, deepening as he grinded his teeth.
“I told him no,” I repeated, wanting to make sure he heard.
“I can’t stand the way he looks at you. The way he speaks to you like he’s familiar with you.”
“It’s almost done,” I tried to remind him.
He shook his head, hand tightening on my leg. “Fuck that. It’s done already. There’s no reason we need to see him anymore. I can handle the rest over the phone, and once Dexter’s delivery is done and he’s away, I’ll pick up the money and we’re gone.”
I closed my eyes. Two days. If they drove straight through, we could leave in two days.
Gage barely slept over the next twenty-four hours, never going long before his phone would ring again. But once the two shipments were dropped off and everything went through, things calmed and we were able to sleep a couple of hours without interruption.
But nerves and anticipation kept me up, restless. I watched Gage’s even breathing, his chest rising and falling as he slept on his back, one bare leg kicked over the edge of the covers. We were only waiting on Dexter.
Gage’s phone buzzed on the nightstand. Before I could make out a number on the screen, he was up and grabbing it.
“Dexter?” He spoke into the phone, turning to me as he sat up. He swept a hand over my hair and pecked my head, whispering, “Sleep,” before leaving the bed and focusing back on the phone. “Where are you now?”
He scooped up his sweatpants and pausing as he stood. “That far? You’re making good time but stick to the speed.” He gave Dexter the same instructions he gave every time they talked as he walked out of the room naked.
I lay back in the bed and waited for him to return, barely breathing, like every phone call. Waiting for something to tear away the hope that was building in me, but even my nerves weren’t strong enough to knock it down. We were so close.
“Does it hurt?” Gage asked as he walked back in the room.
I looked up to him, confused at his question. “What?”
“Your arm.” He crawled over me on the bed, pulling my hand away from the inside crook of my arm and placing a kiss there. “You keep rubbing it.”
“No.” I inspected my arm without pulling it from him. The thin skin there was black and blue from when we collected more blood this afternoon. “I just can’t stop thinking about it.” I cupped his head in my palms, lifting it to look at me. “About how it’s going to be when we’re away from this. What will we do? It’s going to be different.”
“I know.” He shifted himself over me, forcing me back on the pillow and trapping me in his arms. “But as long as we’re together, that’s all I want. Everything will be new, but we’ll have the rest of our lives to build together.” He sprinkled kisses over me, but he couldn’t hide the look in his eyes and it gutted me. Every time he got off the phone with his brother, that tortured look returned, clouding his light eyes. I was making him give up his family.
“Is everything on track with Dexter?” I pushed on his chest, keeping him back before he could drop his weight on me completely.
He nodded, picking up a lock of my hair, focusing on that instead of me. “He should be at the meeting spot in about three hours. I already texted Anatoli to let his men know. They’ll do the actual exchange, and Dexter will be on the next plane to Baltimore, his debt paid.” He rolled off of me onto his back, looking at the ceiling. “And if he does what he promised, he should be okay. If he can stay focused on Felix and Leona, he’ll be okay.” He turned to me, and I felt all the pain trapped in his gaze. “I just hope it doesn’t take him as long to learn as it did me. That he can keep his family.”
I wanted to say something but physically couldn’t, not with the emotion thickening my throat and choking me. Not with my thoughts crushed under the tears glossing his eyes.
So I did all I knew to do to comfort him. I slid my hands around his neck and pressed my lips to his, wrapping my body around him. Our lips parted and we breathed into each other, promises and apologies in our movements and touches. But I knew it wasn’t something I could take away, this sadness, this heartache. We both knew what loss was and what it meant to let go. But at least we had each other to hold on to through it this time.
“What the fuck,” Gage mumbled while reading his screen.
I brought him a cup of coffee and sat next to him on the couch. “What’s wrong?”
“Anatoli’s men aren’t there yet.” He stood up and pressed on his screen. “I’m going to find out what the hell is going on.” He moved like a predator, stalking down the hall with the phone to his ear.
“Where’s your guy?” His voice traveled to me. “And you’re only just now telling me?”
I followed him into his office, wanting to know what was going on.
“Well it didn’t work out. That’s why the fuck you stick to a plan.” He slid his wallet into his pants and opened a drawer, pausing as he listened. “I’m ready to just say fuck it and leave the truck where it’s at. Let them pick it up, and you can figure out how to get paid. I did my part.”
“I thought you didn’t have anyone there?” He stood up and slammed the drawer. “What are they supposed to do?” He met my eyes, breathing in. “I’ll be there.”
When he dropped the phone on the desk I asked, “Where will you be? What’s going on?”
He looked at the phone as it vibrated, screen lit up. “Dexter and Sam are going to have to do the transfer, and I have to coordinate with Anatoli for that to work.” He swiped his hand over his face. “Fuck. If there was any other way…but we have to meet him. Or at least I do.”
“I’m going with you.”
“That’s what I thought you’d say.”